Drowning Doesn’t Always Look Like Drowning – Learn How to Spot It!

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Instinctive Drowning Response Prevention Water Safety

Did you know that drowning is most often silent and does not look like most people expect?

To spot someone who is drowning, you need to know what it really looks like.

Drowning is silent, fast and does not look like most people expect.

The ‘Instinctive Drowning Response’ named by Frank Pia is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water.

This article in Slate explains the 5 things to look for:

  1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs.
  2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. Their mouths are not above the surface of the water long enough to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
  3. People who are drowning  cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
  4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

 

Signs of Drowning
Image courtesy of GLSRP.org

Look for these other signs that someone that might be drowning:

  • Head is low in the water (mouth at water level)
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty (unable to focus)
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair is over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs (vertical)
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not really moving
  • Trying to roll over on to back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder

According to the Safer Tourism Foundation (STF), 75% of deaths from drowning and serious incidents concerning children around pools arise from lack of supervision.

Here’s 5 tips from Katherine Atkinson, chief executive of the STF on how to protect your child by the swimming pool:

  • Never take your eyes off children by the water
  • Check for dangling costumes and hair
  • Beware of diving into shallow water
  • Don’t assume that the presence of lifeguards guarantees safety
  • Learn basic water safety, lifesaving techniques and CPR, so you can help in an emergency

Sometimes the best indicator that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may look like they are treading water and looking up at the sky.

A note to parents, children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.

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